Review by: David Hurwitz
Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 8
This disc marks the start of a new edition of Ives’ orchestral music, and does so solidly, if not spectacularly. Andrew Davis, always musical if seldom known for sheer brilliance or strength of personality, faces strong competition from the likes of Ormandy/Philadelphia, Bernstein/New York, Tilson Thomas/Chicago and Amsterdam, Litton/Dallas, Sinclair/RTE and Nashville, and even Järvi/Detroit on this same label. We are far from the time when Ives was a composer underserved on disc.
That said, these generally fine performances lack only that last ounce of muscle and Ivesian brashness. In the First Symphony, the opening movement’s second subject doesn’t leap out of the gate as it does for conductors as disparate as Ormandy, Tilson Thomas, or Litton, even though Davis paces the piece convincingly and (like Litton and Sinclair) has the advantage of the extra percussion in the coda of the finale bringing the work to an aptly raucous conclusion. Similarly, in the Second Symphony, although the Melbourne player wallops the bejeezus out of the bass drum at the end, the journey to those closing pages sounds just a mite polite in the second movement and finale however well played they undoubtedly are. And while Davis doesn’t hang on to the dissonant closing chord in the manner of Bernstein, Litton, or (less obviously) Tilson Thomas, he does seem overly eager to cut it short.
It may be that some of the fuzziness that blunts the music’s angularity stems from the fact that the Melbourne strings, never less then professional, don’t offer the same weight and rhythmic incisiveness as the best of the competition. Ives tends to over-score for his string sections, and they need to articulate the music more firmly, even to the point of exaggeration, than many other composers demand. Also the sonics, while good, turn a touch cloudy for my taste in fully scored passages. Again we are admittedly splitting hairs, for these really are very good performances that likely will only give pause to listeners familiar with the comparisons listed above. The fact that Ives can be conducted this convincingly by an English conductor working in Australia bodes well both for the composer’s reputation and for this series in particular. This is an enjoyable disc, even if it isn’t perfect, and I look forward to further releases.
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Recording Details:Reference Recording: Both Works: Litton/Dallas (Hyperion)
- IVES, CHARLES:Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2